The UNESCO listed Essaouira is one of the pretty Moroccan coastal towns not taken over by tourists so far. To visit the town take a bus tour from Marrakech or Agadir with a driving time three hours one way.
Essaouira shows Morocco as it is: women in veils, woodworkers at their craft, narrow alleys, whitewashed walls. And countless doors, most of which are blue.
In cooperation with Moroccan National Tourist Office
As Essaouira gets fresh sea winds it’s never too hot. What you will see is fishermen return in their blue boats and seagulls waiting for the fish. And old, thick city walls and camels wandering along the wide sandy beach.
Places to visit in Essaouira: the city gate
Yes, Essaouira has a pristine beach, stretching kilometers away from the city. But due to the heavy winds from the Atlantic, Essaouira is more like a wind surfing than a bathing destination.
Moreover, Essaouira is a centuries old city that has a long and remarkable history. So if you are staying somewhere else in Morocco, try and take an Essaouira day trip. You will like that.
Day Trip from Marrakech to Essaouira
The press group I was traveling with took a minibus from Marrakech to Morocco’s Atlantic Coast. It was an easy desert drive, three hours one way along a good surfaced road, partly a four-lane motorway.
So even when you will drive through the Sahara desert, you don’t have to drive along sand dunes.
Essaouira on the Map
Day trip from Marrakech to Essaouira on the map
On this Google map you will see the location of Essaouira in Morocco, and I also marked our 200 km bus journey from Marrakechwith a line.
Zoom out the map to see that Essaouira is south of Casablanca and north of Agadir. From Agadir it’s a day trip distance to Essaouira as well.
Desert landscape between Marrakech and Essaouira
Below some photos from the roadside, between Marrakech and Essaouira. As all my photos look the same, I only publish three of them. As the desert looks like this. Sand, sand and more sand.
Driving from Marrakech to Essaouira
You can tell Morocco is a dry country, and you can also tell where some water exists. Where water exists there are plants: palms, olive trees, argan trees or vegetables.
Water in the desert means plants
This is the road from Marrakech, already close to Essaouira. It’s more green at this end and you can see thorny argan trees on both sides of the road, and maybe goats climbing in the trees.
Highway from Marrakech to Essaouira
But of course it’s not just empty desert all the way, small communities exist here and there. This is one of the small villages, with typical pink houses – and very sandy cars and bikes:
Village with sandy cars and bikes
And then, finally, you will reach the Atlantic coast and get to see Essaouira from the hills:
Travel blogger on Essaouira hills
Places to Visit in Essaouira
Now, let’s go and explore the historic coastal town of Essaouira.
The historic Essaouira medina
Map of Essaouira, Morocco
Essaouira, Morocco and an Essaouira walking itinerary on the map
Here you can see a map of Essaouira. I spent the afternoon walking around the city. Above you will see a rough draft of my walking itinerary through the old town where Essaoiura’s most sights are to be found.
My walk was not really that straight as the one on the map. As the city is just like a labyrinth I got lost at times. Like always I wandered the smallest side streets, aimlessly and stopping each time there was something to stop for.
I started from the central marketplace Place Moulay Hassan.
Place Moulay Hassan
Places to visit in Essaouira: Place Moulay Hassan
The Moulay Hassan square is a natural place to start. South of the square is the old harbor with blue fishing boats, and on the north side hides the Medina. Moulay Hassan is the local center where people gather at nights.
While it’s pretty quiet on the square at daytime, evenings are different. They all come out and set up grilled fish stalls on the square. Place Moulay Hassan will wake up after dark.
A Place Moulay Hassan cafe
Place Moulay Hassan street life
Essaouira City Walls
Places to visit in Essaouira: city walls
Essaouira has massive city walls, on all sides. But these walls are not as old as you would think.
They are from the 18th century, from the time the town was built. Essaouira is a town purpose-built by Sultan Ben Abdallah, planned to be a Moroccan naval base. So he hired a Frenchman to redesign the city center for that purpose.
The Frenchman mixed European and Moroccan building styles and gave Essaouira a new, fresh design, partly French and partly Moroccan.
Essaouira city walls and the ocean as seen from a blue cafe
Essaouira, a Blue and White City
Places to visit in Essaouira, blue cafés
Essaouira became a blue and white city, its houses painted in fresh white and strong blue.
I don’t know if these colors are typically Moroccan, maybe. I have in fact seen other blue and white coastal towns as well: Asilah two hours south of Tanger, a day trip by train, a strong recommendation!
The other one is Taghazout north of Agadir. Just love those colors!
Essaouira colors, Morocco
These colors also make me think about Greece. And my home country Finland, we have the same blue and white colors in our national flag. But the Moroccan blue is a lot stronger than the Finnish one.
The same Moroccan blue exists in clothing as well:
Moroccan blue in traditional clothing
This man in the blue and white Essaouira is having his mint tea.
In Morocco mint tea is almost a national drink. They serve it everywhere and at all times of the day, either unsweetened or with a huge amount of sugar added.
Moroccan mint tea, Essaouira
But the group I was traveling with didn’t have mint tea, we had a lunch with Moroccan white wine. We sat and enjoyed the sea breeze and the city walls:
Moroccan white wine in Essaouira
Essaouira’s Long History
As I already mentioned the Medina was first built in the 18th century. Despite that, Essaouira has been a wealthy city and trade center thousands of years before that.
In Roman times Essaouira produced purple dye that at that time was the world’s most valuable commodity. In those days it was common to use purple dye to color the clothing of the rich and famous. And the ingredients to make that purple dye came from sea snails that only existed in the area around Essaouira.
Today there are more ways to produce different shades, but strong colors still make an essential part of the Moroccan heritage.
You can see strong colors everywhere, in textiles, carpets and clothing:
Places to visit in Essaouira: Moroccan handicraft stores
Local Essaouira women
So Essaouira has been an important trading port for thousands of years. Both Europeans and Moroccans have wanted to rule the city, added with the Arabs from the north and the Berbers from the south.
Later on, artists and painters started flocking to Essaouira for the town’s intensive light. So in the 1950’s Essaouira got a new life as an artist city and many famous people like Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley and Winston Churchill wanted to stay here.
Then the next people to come were the hippies. And now, as Morocco develops its tourism, European travelers are finding Essaouira.
Tagine pot souvenirs
More tourist stuff
African art gallery
Places to Visit in Essaouira: The Medina
Essaouira, a town on UNESCO’s World Heritage List
Essaouira’s walled Medina is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, which also helps retain the Medina as it is.
I dived through the gate into the old quarters, observing how Essaouira locals spend their Friday afternoon.
Essaouira medina Friday afternoon
The principle with a Moroccan Medinas is always that it’s divided in two, by two crossing main streets. The center of the Medina is where these two streets cross. That’s where the most important souks, above all the food and spice souks are found.
All other souks are arranged on the next streets on the basis of which products they sell. And the main mosque normally stands a block or two from the main crossing.
Essaouira Medina in photos:
An Essaouira man with his carriage
Typical Essaouira street
A blue window
Places to visit in Essaouira, the souks
A side street with carpets
Essaouira locals and visitors
Cats always take the warmest place
Ladies on Friday walk
But as I only was on an Essaouira day trip it was now time to stop dreaming. I woke up and noticed the time was running out. As we were soon going back to Marrakech I had to start running back to my group’s meeting point.
It was so sunny, nice and warm in the Medina. All smells and tastes made me totally forget about the time. And then, the wind and fresh air woke me up:
The sandy Essaouira beach
It was nice to hear the seagulls again, and look at the ocean waves. Essaouira has a lovely beach and I didn’t have any time to enjoy it.
I wish to meet you again, Essaouira. If I ever will return to this pretty coastal town I will spend some time on the beach, then stroll in the harbor and walk all the way around the Medina following the city wall. And then I will have to see the art galleries and museums.
What more do I have to see? The tree goats on the Marrakech Essaouira road.
To read about Moroccan goats climbing in trees check our this post: Morocco: Did I See Goats in Trees?
Essaouira beach cafe in coastal Morocco
My trip to Morocco was made possible by Moroccan National Tourist Office, in whose press trip I participated. All opinions expressed in this blog post, however, are my own.
More on Morocco Travel:
- Marrakech, the pink fairy-tale city of Morocco: The Top Things to Do in Marrakech
- See my all posts on Morocco
- The Moroccan National Tourist Office website